The West Wing is an American television serial drama created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast from 1999 to 2006. It was produced/written by Sorkin (for the first four seasons) and also produced by Thomas Schlamme. After season four it was produced by John Wells. The series is set in the West Wing of the White House, the location of the Oval Office and offices of presidential senior staff, during the fictional Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen).
The West Wing was produced by Warner Bros. Television. It first aired on NBC in 1999, and has been broadcast by many networks in dozens of other countries. The series ended its seven-year run on May 14, 2006.
The show received positive reviews from critics, political science professors, and former White House staffers. In total, The West Wing won two Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards, a tie with Hill Street Blues for the most Emmy Awards ever won by a television drama series. Included in this record-equalling haul were four straight awards for Outstanding Drama Series (2000–2003). The show's ratings waned in later years, after series creator Aaron Sorkin (who wrote many episodes in the first four seasons) left the show, but it remained popular among high-income viewers, a key demographic for the show and its advertisers.
The first season proper saw the return of all of the pilot production team along with the addition of Ron Osborn and Jeff Reno as consulting producers and Rick Cleveland as a second co-producer with Robert W. Glass as an associate producer. Glass left the production team after just five episodes. Osborn and Reno departed after nine episodes. Paul Redford served as a story editor throughout the first season. Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr. worked as executive story editor for the second half of the season.
With the second season Kevin Falls became a co-executive producer. Cleveland left the production team and Redford and O'Donnell were promoted to co-producer. Peter Parnell, and Patrick Cadell became co-producers and Julie Herlocker and Mindy Kanaskie became associate producers. O'Donnell was promoted again to producer five episodes into the season and Hissrich joined him twelve episodes into the season.
The third season saw the departure of Parnell, Cadell, and Herlocker and the temporary absence of O'Donnell. Director Christopher Misiano became a supervising producer and Patrick Ward came aboard as an associate producer. Redford was promoted to producer. With the thirteenth episode of the third season director Alex Graves became an additional supervising producer and Eli Attie joined the writing staff as a story editor.
The fourth season marked the temporary departure of Hissrich. Misiano and Graves became co-executive producers alongside Falls. Attie was promoted to executive story editor and Debora Cahn became a staff writer. The fourteenth episode of the season saw Redford promoted to supervising producer and Kanaskie, Ward and Attie promoted to co-producers.
The fifth season saw the departure of both Sorkin and Schlamme as executive producers. Schlamme remained attached to the series as an executive consultant. John Wells remained the sole executive producer and showrunner. Co-executive producer Kevin Falls also left the show. O'Donnell rejoined the production team as a consulting producer. Wells also added Carol Flint, Alexa Junge, Peter Noah and John Sacret Young as consulting producers. Andrew Stearn came aboard as a producer and Attie was promoted to producer. Cahn became story editor and Josh Singer replaced her as staff writer. With the tenth episode Flint, Junge, Noah and Sacret Young became supervising producers.
With the sixth season Misiano and Graves were promoted to executive producers. Redford and Junge left the production team and Dylan K. Massin became a co-producer. Cahn was promoted to executive story editor and Singer replaced her as story editor. Lauren Schmidt filled the staff writer role. The fourth episode saw the departure of original crew member Llewellyn Wells. Debora Cahn was promoted to co-producer with the fourteenth episode.
The seventh season saw Noah and O'Donnell promoted again, this time becoming additional executive producers. Attie became a supervising producer. Hissrich returned to his role as producer for the final season.
|Actor/Actress||Character||1st position||Other positions (if any)|
|Stockard Channing||Abigail Bartlet||First Lady|
|Dulé Hill||Charlie Young||Personal Aide to the President (Seasons 1–6)||Deputy Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff (Seasons 6–7)|
|Allison Janney||C. J. Cregg||Press Secretary (Seasons 1–6)||Chief of Staff (Seasons 6–7)|
|Moira Kelly||Mandy Hampton||White House Media Consultant (Season 1)|
|Rob Lowe||Sam Seaborn||Deputy Communications Director (Seasons 1–4)|
|Janel Moloney||Donna Moss||Senior Assistant to Josh Lyman (Seasons 1–6)||Russell Campaign Spokesperson/Santos Campaign Spokesperson (Seasons 6–7)|
|Richard Schiff||Toby Ziegler||Communications Director|
|Martin Sheen||Josiah Edward "Jed" Bartlet||President of the United States|
|John Spencer||Leo McGarry||Chief of Staff (Seasons 1–6)||Senior Advisor to the President (Season 6)/Democratic Candidate for Vice President (Season 7)|
|Bradley Whitford||Josh Lyman||Deputy Chief of Staff (Seasons 1–6)||Santos for President Campaign Manager (Seasons 6–7)|
|Joshua Malina||Will Bailey||Deputy Communications Director (Seasons 4–5)|| Chief of Staff to Vice President Bob Russell (Seasons 5–7)|
White House Communications Director (Season 7)
|Mary McCormack||Kate Harper||Deputy National Security Advisor (Seasons 5–7)|
|Kristin Chenoweth||Annabeth Schott||Deputy Press Secretary (Season 6)||Santos for President campaign team (Season 7)|
|Jimmy Smits||Matt Santos||Congressman from Texas (Season 6)||Democratic Candidate for President (Seasons 6–7)|
|Alan Alda||Arnold Vinick||Senator from California (Season 6)||Republican Candidate for President (Seasons 6–7)|
Each of the principal actors made approximately $75,000 an episode, with Sheen's most recently confirmed salary being $300,000. Rob Lowe also had a six-figure salary, reported to be $100,000, because his character originally was supposed to have a more central role. Disparities in cast salaries led to very public contract disputes, particularly by Janney, Schiff, Spencer, and Whitford. During contract negotiations in 2001, the four were threatened with breach of contract suits by Warner Bros. However, by banding together, they were able to persuade the studio to more than double their salaries. Two years later, the four again demanded a doubling of their salaries, a few months after Warner Bros. had signed new licensing deals with NBC and Bravo.
John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, died from a heart attack on December 16, 2005 — about a year after his character experienced a nearly fatal heart attack on the show. A brief memorial message from Martin Sheen ran before "Running Mates", the first new episode that aired after Spencer's death. The loss of Spencer's character was addressed by the series beginning with the episode "Election Day", which aired on April 2, 2006.
Different performers had been originally considered for many of the roles. Bradley Whitford states in an interview on the Season 1 DVD that he was originally cast as Sam, though the character of Josh was the role Whitford had wanted and for which he had auditioned. In addition, Josh's character had been written specifically for him by Aaron Sorkin. In the same interview, Janel Moloney states that she had originally auditioned for the role of C.J., and that the role she eventually received, Donna, was not meant to be a recurring character. Other actors who were seriously considered included Alan Alda and Sidney Poitier for the President, Judd Hirsch for Leo, Eugene Levy for Toby, and CCH Pounder for C.J.
Most episodes follow President Bartlet and his staff through particular legislative or political issues. Plots can range from behind-closed-doors negotiating with Congress ("Five Votes Down") to personal issues like sex ("Pilot", "Take Out The Trash Day") and personal drug use (a major plotline throughout the first and second seasons). The typical episode loosely follows the president and his staff through their day, generally following several plots connected by some idea or theme. A large, fully connected set of the White House allows the producers to create shots with very few cuts and long, continuous master shots of staff members walking and talking through the hallways. These "walk and talks" became a trademark of the show. The final two seasons delivered somewhat of a narrative change, with the focus of the show dividing between plots in the West Wing with President Bartlet and his remaining senior staffers and plots revolving around the rest of main cast on the campaign trail for the 2006 election.
In the first season, the administration is in the middle of its first year and is still having trouble settling in and making progress on legislative issues. The second season brings scandal as the White House is rocked by allegations of criminal conduct and the president must decide whether he will run for a second term. The third and fourth seasons take an in-depth look at the campaign trail and the specter of both foreign and domestic terrorism. In the fifth season, the president begins to encounter more issues on the foreign front, while at home he must face off with the newly elected Speaker of the House over the future of the federal budget. The sixth season chronicles the quest to replace Bartlet in the next election, following the primary campaign of several candidates from both parties. In the seventh season, the president must face a leak of confidential information about a secret NASA program from inside the White House, while the Democratic and Republican candidates battle to replace him in the general election.
The series developed from the 1995 theatrical film The American President, for which Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. Unused plot elements from the film and a suggestion from Akiva Goldsman inspired Sorkin to create The West Wing.
According to the DVD commentary, Sorkin intended to center the show on Sam Seaborn and the other senior staff with the president in an unseen or a secondary role. However, Bartlet's screen time gradually increased, and his role expanded as the series progressed. Positive critical and public reaction to Sheen's performance raised his character's profile, decreasing Lowe's perceived significance. In addition, according to Sorkin, the storylines began to focus less on Sam and more on Josh Lyman, the deputy chief of staff. This shift is one of the reasons for Lowe's eventual departure from the show in the fourth season. For the first four seasons, Sorkin wrote almost every episode of the series, occasionally reusing plot elements, episode titles, character names, and actors from his previous work, Sports Night, a sitcom in which he began to develop his signature dialogue style of rhythmic, snappy, and intellectual banter. Fellow executive producer and director Thomas Schlamme developed the "walk and talk," a continuous shot tracking in front of the characters as they walk from one place to another that became part of The West Wing's signature visual style. Sorkin's hectic writing schedule often led to cost overruns and schedule slips, and he opted to leave the show after the fourth season, following increasing personal problems, including an arrest for possession of illegal drugs. Thomas Schlamme also left the show after the fourth season. John Wells, the remaining executive producer, took the helm after their departure.
The show aired its series finale on Sunday, May 14, 2006. It had suffered a significant ratings fall after being placed in the same timeslot as ABC's Top 20 hit Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and CBS' Top 30 hit Cold Case.
The West Wing offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of America's most powerful address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the show's legitimacy, political slant, and film merits have generated considerable discussion.
Former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers as well as expert pollster Patrick Caddell served as consultants for the show from the beginning, helping writers and actors depict the West Wing accurately. Other former White House staffers, such as Peggy Noonan and Gene Sperling, have served as consultants for brief periods.
A documentary special in the third season compared the show's depiction of the West Wing to the real thing. Many former West Wing denizens applauded the show's depiction of the West Wing, including advisor David Gergen, Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.
While critics often praised The West Wing for its writing, others faulted the show as unrealistically optimistic. A large part of this criticism came from the perceived naiveté of the characters. Television critic Heather Havrilesky asked "… how do you go from innocent millipede to White House staffer without becoming soiled or disillusioned by the dirty realities of politics along the way?
Dr. Staci L. Beavers, associate professor of political science at California State University, San Marcos, wrote a short essay, The West Wing as a Pedagogical Tool, concerning the viability of The West Wing as a teaching tool. She concluded, "While the series’ purpose is for-profit entertainment, The West Wing presents great pedagogical potential." The West Wing, in her opinion, gave greater depth to the political process usually espoused only in stilted talking points on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press. However, the merits of a particular argument may be obscured by the viewer's opinion of the character. Beavers also noted that characters with opposing viewpoints were often set up to be "bad people" in the viewer's eyes. These characters were assigned undesirable characteristics having nothing to do with their political opinions, such as being romantically involved with a main character's love interest. In Beavers's opinion, a critical analysis of the show's political views can present a worthwhile learning experience to the viewer.
One of the stranger impacts of the show occurred on January 31, 2006, when The West Wing was said to have played a hand in defeating Tony Blair's government in the British House of Commons, during the so called "West Wing Plot". The plan was allegedly hatched after a Conservative Member of Parliament watched the episode, "A Good Day", in which Democrats passed the President's stem cell bill by hiding in an office until the Republican Speaker calls the vote.
Although his administration is reliably liberal, President Bartlet possesses virtues even a conservative could admire. He obeys the Constitution and the law. He is devoted to his wife and daughter [sic]. Being unfaithful to his wife would never cross his mind. He is no wimp when it comes to foreign policy — no quid pro quo for him.
Journalist Matthew Miller wrote, "although the show indeed has a liberal bias on issues, it presents a truer, more human picture of the people behind the headlines than most of today's Washington journalists."
In its first season, The West Wing attracted critical attention in the film community with a record nine Emmy wins. The show has been praised for its high production values and repeatedly recognized for its cinematic achievements. With a budget of $6 million per episode, many consider each week's show to be a small feature film. However, many in the film community believe that the true genius of the show was Sorkin's rapid-fire and witty scripts.
The West Wing is noted for developing the "walk-and-talk"—long Steadicam tracking shots showing characters walking down hallways while involved in long conversations. In a typical "walk-and-talk" shot, the camera leads two characters down a hallway as they speak to each other. One of these characters generally breaks off and the remaining character is then joined by another character, who initiates another conversation as they continue walking. These "walk-and-talks" create a dynamic feel for what would otherwise be long expository dialogue, and have become a staple for dialogue-intensive television show scenes.
The series shares the Emmy Award record for most acting nominations by regular cast members (excluding the guest performer category) for a single series in one year. (Both Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law also hold that record). For the 2001–2002 season nine cast members were nominated for Emmys. Allison Janney, John Spencer and Stockard Channing each won an Emmy (for Lead Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress respectively). The others nominated were Martin Sheen (for Lead Actor), Richard Schiff, Dule Hill and Bradley Whitford (for Supporting Actor), and Janel Moloney and Mary-Louise Parker (for Supporting Actress). In addition, that same year Mark Harmon, Tim Matheson and Ron Silver were each nominated in the Guest Actor category (although none won the award). This gives the series an Emmy Award record for most acting nominations overall (including guest performer category) in a single year, with 12 acting nominations.
Twenty individual Emmys have been awarded to writers, actors, and crew members. Allison Janney is the record holder for most wins by a cast member, with a total of four Emmys.
In addition to its Emmys, the show has won two Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, in 2000 and 2001, Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Martin Sheen is the only cast member to have won a Golden Globe, and he and Allison Janney are the only cast members to win a SAG award (best actor and best actress respectively) In both 1999 and 2000, The West Wing was awarded the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting.
The following table summarizes award wins by cast members:
|Alan Alda||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2006)|
|Stockard Channing||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2002)|
|Allison Janney||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)|
|Emmy, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (2002, 2004)|
|SAG Award, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)|
|Richard Schiff||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2000)|
|Martin Sheen||Golden Globe, Best Actor in a TV Series - Drama (2001)|
|SAG Award, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)|
|John Spencer||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2002)|
|Bradley Whitford||Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2001)|
W.G. "Snuffy" Walden received an Emmy Award for Main Title Theme Music in 2000 for "The West Wing Opening Theme".
Many cast members have been Emmy-nominated for their work on The West Wing but have not won, including Martin Sheen—who was nominated each year for all seven seasons of the series without receiving the award—as well as Janel Moloney, who was nominated twice, and Dulé Hill, Rob Lowe, and Mary-Louise Parker, who were all nominated once. Matthew Perry, Oliver Platt, Ron Silver, Tim Matheson, and Mark Harmon have also received Emmy nominations for guest starring on the show.
The West Wing often features extensive discussion of current or recent political issues. After the real-world election of Republican President George W. Bush in 2000, many wondered whether the liberal show could retain its relevance and topicality. However, by exploring many of the same issues facing the Bush administration from a Democratic point of view, the show continued to appeal to a broad audience of both Democrats and Republicans.
In its second season episode The Midterms, President Bartlet admonishes fictional radio host Dr. Jenna Jacobs for her views regarding homosexuality at a private gathering at the White House. Dr. Jacobs is a caricature of radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who strongly disapproves of homosexuality. According to Barbara Mikkelson of snopes.com, many of the president's biblical references in his comments to Dr. Jacobs are thought to have come from an open letter to Dr. Schlessinger, circulated online in early May 2000.
The Bartlet administration experiences a scandal during the second and third seasons that has been compared to the Monica Lewinsky affair. President Bartlet was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1992. The scandal centers around President Bartlet's nondisclosure of his illness to the electorate during the election. He is investigated by an opposition Congress for defrauding the public and eventually accepts Congressional censure. Multiple sclerosis advocacy groups have praised the show for its accurate portrayal of the symptoms of MS and stressing that it is not fatal. The National MS Society commented:
For the first time on national television or even in film, the public encountered a lead character with both an MS diagnosis and the hope for a continued productive life. Because [The] West Wing is a fictional drama and not a medical documentary, writers could have greatly distorted MS facts to further their story line [but did not].
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the start of the third season was postponed for a week, as were most American television premieres that year. A script for a special episode was quickly written and began filming on September 21. The episode "Isaac and Ishmael" aired on October 3 and addresses the sobering reality of terrorism in America and the wider world, albeit with no specific reference to September 11. While "Isaac and Ishmael" received mixed critical reviews, it illustrated the show's flexibility in addressing current events. The cast of the show state during the opening of the episode that it is not part of The West Wing continuity.
While the September 11 attacks do not occur in The West Wing continuity, the country does enter into a variation of the War on Terrorism. The war begins during the show's third season, when a plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge was uncovered; in response, the President orders the assassination of terrorist leader Abdul ibn Shareef. At the end of the fourth season, the conflict escalates when Zoey Bartlet (Elisabeth Moss), the president's youngest daughter, is kidnapped by Islamic extremists from a fictional country named Qumar. The result of this kidnapping is the bombing of Qumar. This storyline draws similarities to the real-world U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as well as U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, as it brings the Middle East to the forefront of U.S. foreign relations and elevated terrorism as a serious threat in The West Wing universe. In Seasons 3, 4 and 5, the fictional Bahji terror group seems to act as a fictional stand-in for the real world Al Qaeda, but in Seasons 6 and 7, characters mention Al Qaeda itself as a threat, despite no clearly stated history of Al Qaeda terror attacks in The West Wing continuity (although Nancy McNally does refer to Osama Bin Laden as a potential threat at the beginning of Season 2.)
In the middle of the fourth season, Bartlet's White House is confronted with the genocide in the fictional African country of Equatorial Kundu which was compared to Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The result was new foreign policy doctrine for Bartlet Administration and military intervention to stop the violence, which came after much hesitation and reluctance to call the conflict a genocide. In reality, Clinton Administration didn't intervene in Rwanda, making series events look like a moral imperative.
In the sixth and seventh seasons, The West Wing explores a leak of top-secret information by a senior staffer at the White House. This leak has been compared to the events surrounding the Valerie Plame affair. In the storyline, the International Space Station is damaged and can no longer produce oxygen for the astronauts to breathe. With no other methods of rescue available, the president is reminded of the existence of a top-secret military space shuttle. Following the president's inaction, the shuttle story is leaked to a White House reporter, Greg Brock (analogous to Judith Miller), who prints the story in the New York Times. Brock will not reveal his source and goes to jail for failing to do so, as did Miller. In order to stop the investigation, in which authorities suspect Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg, Toby Ziegler admits to leaking the information, and the President is forced to dismiss him. In comparison, the Plame affair resulted in the arrest and conviction of Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. However, Libby was convicted of perjury in testimony to a grand jury. No one was convicted for "blowing the cover" of Plame. (Richard Armitage, an official in the Bush State Department, acknowledged leaking information about Plame to reporters but was never charged with a crime.) Libby's two and a half year prison sentence was later commuted by President Bush, though the other facet of his sentence ($250,000 fine) stands until Libby's appeals were to be considered.
Other issues explored in The West Wing include:
Fictional locations inside the United States have been created to loosely represent certain places:
A near meltdown at the nuclear plant becomes the focus of an October surprise for Republican nominee Senator Arnold Vinick during the 2006 presidential election, due to Vinick's strong pro-nuclear stance and revelations of his active lobbying for the construction of the plant. This was seen to be a key factor in Vinick's narrow defeat in the election by Democratic nominee Congressman Matt Santos.
Entire countries are invented as composite pictures that epitomize many of the problems that plague real nations in certain areas of the world:
Jabal Nafusah (also the name of a real-life Libyan city) seems to be the largest city and the capital, according to maps shown of the country. Qumar is an absolute monarchy, ruled by a sultan and his family. The country is a former British protectorate. The nation was first introduced in the third season where it was mentioned as a close ally of the United States. Qumar continues on the show to be a U.S. ally, though the Sultan and other officials were extremely troubled by the assassination, bombing campaign and invasion. As a result of the air strikes, gas pipelines were damaged, leading to economic troubles for the country and its European allies.
During the final season episode "The Cold", a situation room map shows the Persian Gulf clearly, but omits Qumar.
When Kundu was first mentioned in season 2, it is led by President Nimbala who is executed by the end of the episode. In January 2003 of the series' timeline ("Inauguration, Part I"), the Arkutu-run government of President Nzele (described as a "sadistic madman") begins an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Induye in Bitanga, killing 200 people. The violence soon spreads outside Bitanga and into the countryside. In President Josiah Bartlet's second inaugural address ("Inauguration Over There"), he announces the new Bartlet Doctrine for the use of force: America shall intervene whenever there are humanitarian interests at stake. With that new doctrine, Bartlet sends a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and a Marine expeditionary unit, a force of 11,000 troops in total, to Kundu ("The California 47th"). As of the episode "Twenty Five," US forces are still operating in Kundu.
In its original appearance, Kundu's location is somewhat ambiguous. President Nimbala and his aide appear to speak Setswana, a Bantu language spoken in South Africa and Botswana, which would imply a Southern African setting. The Season 4 appearance seems to more firmly place the country in West Africa, near to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Its capital city is Bitanga, which contains a major airport, TV station and a radio station.
The last real president who is known to have existed in the show's universe is Richard Nixon. Presidents who served between Nixon and Bartlet include one-term Democrat D. Wire Newman (James Cromwell) who was the last Democrat in the White House before Bartlet and two-term Republican Owen Lassiter. Also in the second-season episode "Galileo," a portrait of Bill Clinton can be seen hanging on the wall of the Situation Room, when President Bartlet is being briefed about the Russian missile silo explosion, although Clinton is never mentioned at any time in the series. In the Sixth season episode "A Good Day" a picture of Jimmy Carter can be seen hanging on a wall in the White House. Leo McGarry is mentioned as being Labor Secretary in the administration that was in office in 1993 and 1995 - directly prior to Bartlet's, suggesting a Democratic administration. However in the first season, an outgoing Supreme Court Justice tells President Bartlet that he had been wanting to retire for 5 years, (1994) but waited "for a Democrat." In the season four episode "Debate Camp", we see in flashback to the days just before Bartlet's inauguration, as Donna Moss meets with her Republican predecessor, Jeff Johnson who makes it clear that the outgoing Republican administration has been in office for eight years and in the sixth season Leo says the Republicans have been "out of power for eight years" and Republicans at their convention say "eight (years) is enough", making it clear that the President before Bartlet was a Republican, but it was never disclosed if this President was President Lassiter.
The passage of time on the show relative to that of the real world is somewhat ambiguous when marked by events of smaller duration (e.g., votes, campaigns). Sorkin has noted in a DVD commentary track for the second season episode "18th and Potomac" that he has tried to avoid tying The West Wing to a specific period of time. Despite this, real years are occasionally mentioned, usually in the context of elections and President Bartlet's two-term administration.
The show's presidential elections are held in 2002 and 2006, setting them off by two years from actual presidential elections in the United States (e.g., 1996, 2000, 2004, etc.). The election timeline in The West Wing matches up with that of the real world until early in the sixth season, when it appears that a year is lost. For example, the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary, which would normally fall in January 2006, appears in an episode airing in January 2005.
In an interview, John Wells stated that the series began one and a half years into Bartlet's first term and that the election to replace Bartlet was being held at the correct time.
In the season 5 episode "Access," it is mentioned that the Casey Creek crisis occurred during Bartlet's first term, and network footage of the crisis carries the date of November 2001.
The campaign for the Democratic nomination is extensively addressed. In the episodes "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" and "Bartlet for America," flashbacks are used to tell how Bartlet defeated Texas Senator John Hoynes (Tim Matheson) and Washington Senator William Wiley for the Democratic nomination. The flashbacks also reveal how Leo McGarry persuaded Bartlet, who was then governor of New Hampshire, to run for president and how Bartlet ultimately selected John Hoynes as his choice as running mate.
Bartlet's staff contemplates replacing Vice President John Hoynes on the ticket with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Percy Fitzwallace (John Amos), among others. After it is clear that Ritchie will be the Republican nominee, Bartlet dismisses the idea, declaring that he wants Hoynes in the number two spot, "Because I could die."
Throughout the season it is anticipated that the race will be close, but a stellar performance by Bartlet in the sole debate between the candidates helps give Bartlet a landslide victory in both the popular and electoral vote.
A speed-up in The West Wing's timeline, in part due to the expiration of many cast members' contracts and a desire to continue the program with lower production costs, resulted in the omission of the 2004 midterm elections and an election during the seventh season. The sixth season extensively details the Democratic and Republican primaries. The seventh season covers the lead-up to the general election, the election, and the transition to a new administration. The timeline slows down to concentrate on the general election race. The election, normally held in November, takes place across two episodes originally broadcast on April 2 and April 9, 2006.
Congressman Matt Santos (D-TX) (Jimmy Smits) is nominated on the fourth ballot at the Democratic National Convention, during the sixth season finale. Santos was planning to leave Congress before being recruited to run for the presidency by Josh Lyman. Santos polled in the low single digits in the Iowa caucus and was virtually out of the running in the New Hampshire primary before a last-ditch direct television appeal vaults him to a third-place finish with 19% of the vote. Josh Lyman, Santos's campaign manager, convinces Leo McGarry to become Santos's running mate. However, John Spencer, the actor portraying Leo McGarry, died on December 16, 2005.
Senator Arnold Vinick (R-CA) (Alan Alda) secures the Republican nomination, defeating Glen Allen Walken (John Goodman) and the Reverend Don Butler (Don S. Davis), among others. Initially, Vinick wants Butler to become his running mate. However, Butler does not want to be considered because of Vinick's stance on abortion. Instead, West Virginia Governor Ray Sullivan (Brett Cullen) is chosen as Vinick's running mate. Vinick is portrayed throughout the sixth season as virtually unbeatable because of his popularity in California, a typically Democratic state, his moderate views, and his wide crossover appeal. Vinick, however, faces difficulty with the pro-life members of his party as a pro-choice candidate, and criticism for his support of nuclear power following a serious accident at a Californian nuclear power station.
On the evening of the election, Leo McGarry suffers a massive heart attack and is pronounced dead at the hospital, with the polls still open on the West Coast. The Santos campaign releases the information immediately, while Arnold Vinick refuses to use Leo's death as a "stepstool" to the presidency. Santos emerges as the winner in his home state of Texas, while Vinick wins his home state of California. The election comes down to Nevada, where both candidates need a victory to secure the presidency. Vinick tells his staff repeatedly that he will not allow his campaign to demand a recount of the votes if Santos is declared the winner. Josh Lyman is seen giving Santos the same advice, although the Santos campaign does send a team of lawyers down to Nevada. Santos is pronounced the winner of the election, having won Nevada by 30,000 votes, with an electoral margin of 272–266.
Santos organizes his administration, choosing Josh Lyman as Chief of Staff, who in turn calls on former colleague Sam Seaborn to be Deputy Chief of Staff. In need of experienced cabinet members, Santos taps Arnold Vinick as Secretary of State, believing the senior statesman to be one of the best strategists available and respected by foreign leaders.
President Bartlet's final act as President of the United States is pardoning Toby Ziegler. The series ends with Bartlet returning to New Hampshire. Having said his goodbyes to his closest staff, former President Bartlet tells President Santos, "Make me proud, Mr. President", to which Santos responds, "I'll do my best, Mr. President."
According to executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell Jnr, the writers originally intended for Vinick to win the election. However, the death of Spencer forced him and his colleagues to consider the emotional strain that would result from having Santos lose both his running mate and the election. It was eventually decided that the last episodes would be rescripted by John Wells. Other statements from John Wells, however, have contradicted O'Donnell's claims about a previously planned Vinick victory. The script showing Santos winning was written long before the death of John Spencer. In 2008 O'Donnell stated to camera "We actually planned at the outset for Jimmy Smits to win, that was our .. just .. plan of how this was all going to work, but the Vinick character came on so strong in the show, and was so effective, it became a real contest ... and it became a real contest in the West Wing writer's room.